And the crowd goes wild!
It's a touchdown on an inter-planetary scale – sending a spacecraft 352 million kilometres through space to hit (safely) a tiny ellipse 20km wide and 25km long. But now Curiosity is now on Mars! After years of hard work, months of flight-time, and a nail-biting "7 minutes of terror", we now have a tremendously capable robotic science laboratory sitting on the surface of Mars.

And watching along for this exciting finale, was an excited crowd at Carter Observatory in Wellington, where KiwiSpace co-hosted a special landing event.

Around 120 people crowded into the OMV room at Carter, which overflowed into the nearby gallery - proving that there's plenty of interest in spaceflight in New Zealand. (We unfortunately ended up having to turn people away). We started with a short presentation by myself, introducing KiwiSpace and what we're about, and I highlighted some of the cool Xbox and IOS apps people can use to learn about Curiosity and have a lot of fun after tonight's event.

Next we had a brief presentation about the KiwiMars mission, by Haritina and Bruce. While the crew has done a few presentations at Carter in recent weeks, it was great to see it was predominantly new faces there, who hadn't heard about our expedition before. It showed how engaging space science can be, and that it wasn't just the 'diehard' space fans there to watch the landing. Finally, we switched back to the live NASA video feed.

There were some tense moments in the lead-up to the landing, due to some 'local communication issues' (flaky internet) – but we got most of the feed for the final landing approach. Claire Bretherton from Carter provided some great running commentary, translating the technical announcements and explaining what was happening as it went along. 

And of course, there was the "Touchdown Confirmed" moment. It's drowned out in the video a bit (by me), but everyone in the room was elated. I know I was – having seen a similar landings of both Spirit and Opportunity, I know I was so looking forward to this moment – and was over the moon!  

NASA had been very conservative in their pre-landing briefings, but I was very hopeful that we'd get the first image back before the Odyssey orbiter went out of range - so the crowd here could see the first image from Mars. And they didn't disappoint – giving us not just the thumbnail, but full-resolution versions! There's something amazing about getting those first pictures back – to know you've made it there, you've touched down safely and not about to fall off a cliff... 

One of the best parts of the event, was the questions we got afterwards. You could sense the buzz in the room as the NASA transmission ended and people started to make their way out. They had so many questions, wanted to know more, to understand parts of what they'd seen. Both the Carter and KiwiSpace crews were kept busy for 20 minutes or so answering questions and explaining more about the mission and what they'd just seen.

And I have to say that Carter observatory did an outstanding job at publicity for this event. We had TV1 and TV3 news there, as well as all the major newspapers. And our KiwiMars Mission Commander was kept busy doing interviews for several of them, including a live-cross on the TV3 news!

Following the landing event, we also had a short pre-arranged soiree with the members of the KiwiMars project team. It was fantastic to put faces to some of the people I'd only spoken to online or by email, and they are all a great bunch of people. We'd bought plenty of bubbly for that party, and of course it was a double celebration given Curiosity's landing. 

But of course the real celebration starts now – as Curiosity starts to rove Mars. I'll finish with a lovely quote I heard on the night: "It's time to see where Curiosity will take us..."




The crew have arrived at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah! They will spend today unpacking and getting training from the previous crew. We hope to get our first photos later this afternoon.

The full 'simulated mission' starts on Tuesday (NZ-Time). Our Mission Support dashboard will be live shortly to let you follow along...

KiwiMars crew are in the US!

KiwiMars 2012 - Our existing mission to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah is days away from commencing. The crew, a mix of 4 Kiwis and 2 Australians have all met up in Los Angeles and are currently driving towards Utah. We will be launching an online Mission Support site tomorrow, so you can get real-time updates and watch as the crew arrive, unpack and prepare for the simulation.

Space Socials

KiwiSpace is currently mulling the idea of organising a regular series of event nights with speakers on space topics, and we'd love to hear your thoughts.

We've been considering what formats would work best: A number of our members have attended events like Pecha Kucha, Ignite, or watched TED or TEDx talks online. The approaches vary – some focus on short presentations with lots of speakers, others longer 'keynotes' - or a combination of the two. Then there's the venue/style – e.g. sit down in a lecture hall, a bar, or maybe over dinner.

Our goal would be to get people interested in space together regularly (bi-monthly/monthly), listen to some engaging or thought-provoking presentations, and provide plenty of time for everyone to mix and mingle and share ideas.

Following the KiwiMars mission we want to see if we can hold one (or several) of these events – probably in June.

As a 'straw man proposal' for a first event, we've been thinking the following:

  • Hold at a private room in a restaurant or bar, with seating for around 40 people.
  • Round tables for ~8 people – to encourage conversation, etc
  • Catered food/meal and a cash bar
  • 2-3 speakers – with KiwiMars being one of the first topics
  • $25 tickets

We'd love to hear your feedback on what format you think is best, and most importantly would you come?

If this is at all of interest, we'd appreciate you taking 1 minute to fill in this quick form below.

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Ever wanted to be part of a team that lands a spacecraft on Mars, decides the science targets and then actually commands a rover on the surface? Well now's your chance to train for it.

The next best thing can be found at the Victoria Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC) in Melbourne, Australia. Amongst other awesome science learning experiences there, they have a model robotic rover that students can control over the internet, and drive around a "Mars Room".

The only catch, to make this Mars Mission available in New Zealand, is that we need teachers trained on how to use it.

Teacher Professional Development: Robotic Mission to Mars

VSSEC is running a two-day Teacher Professional Learning Program that they are happy to open up to NZ Teachers. It's being held on Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th of April, which conveniently is during the NZ school holidays.

The course introduces teachers to the new VSSEC Robotic Mission to Mars program for Year 10 students. Training and resources are provided to support a multi-lesson pre-mission learning experience for students, that covers:

  • Introduction - poses the question ‘Are We Alone?’ and includes a history of Mars exploration, the search for water, and extreme life on Earth. A Google Mars activity introduces students to Martian geography and robotic missions to Mars.
  • Man vs Robot examines the environmental and technical challenges of a Mission to Mars, and compares the requirements and achievements of manned and robotic space missions. Students organise an excursion or a visit by an engineer or scientist.
  • Robotics covers the history of robots and explores the definition of a robot; introduces students to the specifications of a Mars rover and the negotiations between the teams of engineers and scientists who design them. Students undertake a ‘leadership and teamwork’ activity, and design a simple machine contraption.
  • Getting Around looks at the development of mobile robots on Mars, wheel and suspension design; autonomy and hazard avoidance, position knowledge and terrain assessment, path planning, and odometry. Students design a skateboard wheel for different terrains.
  • Powering Up: Energy explores energy forms, transformation and thermodynamics, including energy sources available on Earth and Mars, energy efficiency, and a Mission to Mars’ requirements for different functions (launch, propulsion, and robotic mission objectives).
  • Controlling the Robot examines the principles of navigation, including latitude and longitude, the equation of time, localisation, map making, obstacle avoidance and pathfinding. MER rover navigation. A hand out sheet on robotic arm, sample collection and chemistry lab analysis. Wet chemistry analysis of unknown substances?
  • Sensors explores the human visual system using optical illusions, and the role of robotic sensors, including spectral analysis. Students test their own stereovision, determine their dominant eyes, and create red/green anaglyphs.
  • Site Selection – Students investigate potential Mars landing sites suitable for a robotic mission. They investigate and understand the different engineering and scientific objectives, and the need for teamwork and problem solving using the same case-making and voting process used by the scientists and engineers at NASA. This activity was developed in collaboration with Marion Anderson from the School of Geoscience at Monash University and reflects her experience of participating in the site selection for Spirit and Opportunity and the new Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity.
Controlling the Rovers

Students are allocated mission 'roles' (e.g. Communications) and work as a team to control the rover over the internet. They see 'what the rover sees' through streaming video, as they drive it to their selected science targets. Extra challenges are thrown in along the way, that they have to decide together how to overcome.

They control the robotic arm to manoeuvre the sensor onto the target rock/etc; and then get simulated readings back which they can then analyse.

Students take on different roles in the mission team, each with their own control workstation - and work together to monitor and control the rover, its subsystems and science goals.

Calling NZ Teachers

2012 is a very 'Mars-themed' year for KiwiSpace.

In August of this year, the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity will be landing on the surface of Mars. Can you imagine how more engaging it will be for students as they follow this mission, if they have learned what planning and executing a Mars mission really involves.

And in April/May this year, KiwiSpace is sending a crew of six to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, as part of our KiwiMars 2012 expedition.


We're looking for teachers to help bring this programme to New Zealand. VSSEC has agreed to a train-the-trainer model, so a whole school can benefit by sending one teacher. We're also hoping to facilitate inter-school training.

How to apply

What: Teacher Professional Development: Robotic Mission to Mars
When: 17-18 April 2012
Location: Victoria Space Science Education Centre, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA

More information can be found on the VSSEC website, including:

RSVP by 30 March 2012.


The course cost is $65 AUD, which includes materials, morning tea, lunch and afternoon teas. Obviously New Zealand teachers need to fund flights to Melbourne and accommodation (discounted rates are available at a nearby apartment hotel).

NZ attendees are encouraged to attend the 'Interstate' teachers day (17 April), which includes additional demonstrations of the VSSEC facilities and other courses: (Manned) Mission to Mars, Mission to the Orbiting Space Laboratory, and Serious Gaming and Effective On-line Learning.

The cost for both days is $88 AUD.

Register your interest

You can book directly with VSSEC if you wish to attend, but we ask that anyone interested (or booking) completes the form below, so we can work more closely with you on rolling out this in NZ.

If there is sufficient interest from teachers in NZ, we've casually discussed the idea with VSSEC about holding a NZ-based training session. So if you, or any colleagues can't make it to Australia but would be interested in receiving NZ-based training (either from VSSEC or from another trained teacher), then please advise us below.

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Closing Comments

VSSEC is a stunning facility, and I thoroughly recommend to everyone that you check it out if you are in the Melbourne area. In addition to the Robotic Mission to Mars, they have a manned mission where students dress in space suits and go into the Mars room or staff the 'control centre.' It's great fun, a type of facility I'd love to see in New Zealand.

I personally think it would be fantastic to see schools in NZ using this program. Students would have a blast while they learn, and they would learn to appreciate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of all those great space and planetary images we see.


Mark Mackay,
Executive Director,

SpaceX and NASA have confirmed that a Dragon capsule will be making a test flight, and hopefully delivery run to the International Space Station early next year. Their email newsletter includes some nice pictures (see link).

NASA Announces: Dragon to the Space Station, (15 Dec 2011)

Dragon will approach to within a few meters of the ISS, allowing astronauts to reach out and grapple Dragon with the Station’s robotic arm and then maneuver it carefully into place. The entire process will take a few hours.

Once in place, Station astronauts will equalize the pressure between the ISS and Dragon, open the hatches, enter the vehicle and begin unloading Dragon’s cargo.

After Dragon spends about a week berthed at the ISS, astronauts will reverse the process, loading Dragon with cargo for return to Earth, sealing the hatches, and un-berthing Dragon using the robotic arm.

I am thoroughly looking forward to this flight, and wish SpaceX the best of luck. We hope to have a representative for KiwiSpace at Kennedy Space Center to cover the launch, and the rest of the mission.

And see the picture of the Falcon 9 on the side, I was lucky enough to stand half-a-metre away from that exact rocket a few months ago (smile)

The official race for the Square Kilometre Array may be over soon, with the official announcement expected Feb/March 2012. But that isn't stopping South Africa continuing to campaign publicly about how their site will be best....

S.Africa ideal for world's largest telescope: minister, (13 Dec 2011)

South Africa is well-placed to host the world's largest telescope because the costs would be lower, according to the deputy science minister.
But cheaper labour, construction and electricity also gave South Africa the country an advantage over Australia, said Justin Jonas, the engineer and astronomer who heads the project in the country.
"SA has pretty much ideal conditions for astronomy," said Hanekom.

I haven't heard much from the NZ government or community lately (please do let me know in the comments of anything I've missed, and I'll happily retract this). IBM (’s-largest-telescope-aw-105617) at least are keeping it in the news, from a technology angle – but I suspect they'll be happy wherever it is built, provided they get the IT contract.

A space consultant from Australia told me last year that who wins this bid could be heavily influenced by how engaged the People are in the project (I'm guessing this relates to support for law changes to secure the sites and radio-free skies, and use of public funds). From what I've heard, South Africa are doing a pretty good job at winning hearts and minds of the public, but I can't help but think that NZ has been relatively quiet on this front.

The ?IAF has just announced a special grant/scholarship to help get students and young professionals over to the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), being held in Italy next year. This is a MASSIVE conference, with around 3000 people in attendance (and if I recall, around 1000 students/young professionals). The breadth of content is amazing, with papers presented on topics from space elevators, policy, exploration, propulsion systems, space debris ... you name it.

Two people from Australia have won a grant recently, and it's time that a New Zealander was in that ranking.
The deadline is very soon - APPLY NOW!

I attended the conferences myself (both SGC and IAC) in Prague, 2010 - and it was amazing. I'll be heading back to IAC next year (but alas, am too old to apply to the grant). If anyone has any questions, please contact me and I'll be happy to assist.

-- Mark Mackay

IAF Emerging Space Leaders Grant

The International Astronautical Federation (IAF) has announced its 2012 Emerging Space Leaders Grant Programme (formerly known as the Youth Grant Programme) that provides opportunities for students and young professionals to participate the annual International Astronautical Congresses.

The young people selected to participate in the 2012 Emerging Space Leaders Grant Programme will participate in the 63rd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) scheduled to take place in Naples, Italy from 1 to 5 October 2012. The individuals selected will also be given the opportunity to participate in other activities held the week prior and during the Congress such as the UN/IAF Workshop and the Space Generation Congress (a dedicated conference for students/young professionals).

Students and Young Professionals between the ages of 21 and 35 on 1 January 2012 with space-related career interests are encouraged to apply for the programme. Up to twelve students and young professionals will be selected by the IAF to participate in the 2012 programme.

Who should consider applying?

  • Individuals interested in pursuing careers involving the development, application and use of space systems, space science research, the policy, legal, social and cultural aspects of space activities, international cooperation on space programs and other similar subjects.
  • Persons who – for financial, sponsorship or other reasons – would not otherwise be able to attend an International Astronautical Congress.
  • Young people who wish to meet and interact with other colleagues from around the world with similar interests.
  • Individuals who hope to utilise the knowledge and experiences they gain during the IAC in their own careers and in enhancing space and related activities in their home countries.

What does the grant include?

  • Round trip air fare between the candidate’s home country and Naples, Italy.
  • Support (in kind-services or funding) for local transportation, lodging and meals during the candidate’s stay in Naples, Italy.
  • Assistance with visa arrangements provided by the IAC Local Organising Committee and the Government of Italy.
  • Registration in the 63rd International Astronautical Congress as well as the Space Generation Congress (27 – 29 September 2012) and the 2012 UN/IAF Workshop.
  • Assignment of an experienced volunteer “mentor” to provide advice on Congress activities before the IAC, to meet with the grant recipient during the IAC and to follow the recipient’s career and activities upon returning to his/her home country. A student or young professional advisor with previous IAC experience and planning to attend the 63rd IAC will also be assigned to help each grant recipient benefit fully from the Congress and related meetings.

Australians have been successful in the first two rounds of the IAF Grant Scheme, Mary D’Souza from the University of Queensland in 2010 and Eloise Matheson in 2011. Both students also participated in the ISEB Student Program and the UN/IAF Workshop and reported that the overall experience was invaluable for helping them move into the professional phase of their career in the space industry.

More details, including how to apply, can be found on the IAF website  

I posted some updates initially on the @KiwiSpaceEvents Twitter account, but then things got quite busy -- so here is my belated report on the APRSAF-18 conference.

APRSAF's annual meeting is a gathering of space agencies in the Asia-Pacific region - typically attended by agency heads and other senior people. The conference ran from 5-9 December 2011, and is an opportunity to discuss and further collaborative projects. KiwiSpace is kind of the 'odd one out' in this group, but the meeting is a great way to learn more about the Asia-Pacific community. And in the absence of a formal space governance body here, we feel having New Zealand represented here is important - and intend to maintain our presence until a more suitable organisation emerges to take the lead.

Space Education & Awareness Working Group

The conference consists of a set of workshops and side-events, followed by a two-day Plenary meeting -- the formalities. The real work gets done during the workshops. Last year in Melbourne at APRSAF-17 we were fortunate enough to have two representatives, so jumped around the working groups -- but this year we focussed on the Space Education and Awareness workshop. And fortunately, these guys are very down to earth and equally as passionate as we are about making things happen in the region.

Country Reports

Most countries present a report on their activities, and it's amazing to see the size of some of them -- a space education workshop in Bangladesh for example was attended by 3,000 people! I originally wasn't going to present, but after some encouragement, hobbled together a quick New Zealand Country Report. Other country reports should be uploaded to the ?APRSAF website and ?SEA WG Wiki soon.

Water Rocket Competition

The results from the successful Water Rocket Competition were presented. Discussion was also had about the possibility of creating an Advanced category -- with parachute deployment, payloads, multi-stage, etc. A task-force was formed, and will explore this for next year.

SpeedB who organised the water rocket event this year, also debuted a novel brainwave-powered water rocket launcher. The path of progress, eh!


Try Zero G

The outcomes of the "Try Zero G" activity were presented. 10 proposals were received from 3 countries and 3 experiments were conducted, one each from Australia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Japanese Satoshi Furukawa conducted the experiments on the 22nd September, 2011. For Australia's experiment he investigated if a compass would point to the north in space. He compared the compass position with the alignment of the ISS and found that the compass did align itself with the Earth's magnetic field and point to the north.

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Try Zero-G will be offered again in 2012 – so get your thinking caps on for experiment ideas. Applications are due at the end of February 2012, and I'll post more info as soon as I have it.

Wind Tunnels

JAXA presented a simple design for a wind-tunnel, which can easily be made in the classroom - and can be used for fun 'theory of flight' education. As you can see from the video below, the educators sure had fun - so kids sure will too. Email me if you want more info on how make one.

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Komurindo (Rocket Payload Competition)

The Indonesian Space Agency (LAPAN) presented their rocketry payload competition, and delighted everyone when they announced this would be open to international entrants in 2012. Again, I'll post more info when we have it – but check out this video from the 2011 competition:

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Poster Competition

The SEA working group has also held a poster competition for the past few years – the 2011 theme being 'The next 50 years in Space'. This was a great opportunity for students to demonstrate their vision for what the future holds.

The theme for next year's competition was decided - Friends in Space - to mirror the United Nations "International year of Cooperatives" theme.

Joint Workshop

And finally, in conjuction with the Space Environment Utilisation (SEU) and Earth Observation (EO) working groups, a combined session was held where JAXA Astronaut Soichi Noguchu discussed the importance of Astronaut Photography of the Earth.

To close, I would like to say a big thanks to Naomi Mathers from VSSEC - who helped me get the most from the conference.

We haven't heard a lot from Rocket Lab in the past year, but they're still soldiering on. I caught up with them recently, and they've changed from being the apparent 'backyard kiwi rocket builders' to being a full-fledged member of the international space community. As evident from their new website, they've become more commercially focussed, developing aerospace systems - and they've secured a number of international contracts.

But here's one innovative little product that they've developed:

Rocket Lab Instant Eyes, PopSci (Nov 2011)

Today’s hand-deployed UAVs can be assembled and launched in minutes, but that’s still too long for a soldier looking for intel to plan an urgent escape. Rocket Lab’s mini UAV reduces the assembly-to-reconnaissance time to 20 seconds. The eight-inch, one-pound, rocket-powered UAV launches with the push of a button and snaps five-megapixel shots throughout the 120 seconds it takes to parachute 2,500 feet back to Earth, transmitting them by encrypted Wi-Fi to the soldier’s phone, tablet or laptop. Once the UAV hits the ground, it self-destructs.

I'm hoping we'll hear more from Rocket Lab next year as some of their new projects come to fruition.

US Satcom considered by Defence, Dominion Post (14 Nov 2011)

The New Zealand Defence Force is considering buying into the United States military's US$3.5 billion (NZ$4.45b) Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) system, a satellite communications network for "US warfighters, allies and coalition partners during all levels of conflict, short of nuclear war".

Mark: I've been trying to learn more about the NZ Defence use and future needs for space technology, and recently sat down with NZ's Defence Technology Agency for initial introductions to KiwiSpace. Amongst other things, they referred me to this article (which somehow I'd missed).

Orbital Crowding

You hear the talk about orbital crowding, but this one photograph, to me, helps illustrate the reality of it. It's not like people crammed into a subway, but when you think that these objects are flying around at thousands of kilometres per hour, you really hope they don't bump into each other..

Satellites in Shot, Blog (21 Nov 2011)

The image is a five-minute exposure of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken by top astrophotographer Nik Szymanek. But his photo has been blighted by FIVE satellites streaking across the field of view.

via SciBlogs (’s-crowded-up-there/)

NZer captures first photos of another solar system, NZ Herald (28 Nov 2011)

Rolf Olsen, a New Zealand based astrophotographer, has published the first non-professional pictures of the disk of debris and dust swirling around Beta Pictoris, a very young solar system... Incredibly, the 12 million-year-old system was captured with only a 25cm telescope.

Rob Olsen's Website -

Pacific Space Conference

{*}Mark Mackay will be attending the APRSAF-18 (Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum) conference next week, which runs from 6-9 December 2011. KiwiSpace sent two representatives last year.{*}

While the formal parts of the conference can be a bit dry, but it's the working groups and networking opportunities that we're heading over for. We'll be focussing on the 'Space Education & Awareness' working group topics, and following up on the UNIFORM project (an Asia-Pacific cluster of micro-satellites) to see if there is an opportunity and any benefits for NZ to become involved.

Mark plans to provide updates on the @KiwiSpaceEvents twitter feed.

From talking to people lately, it's come to my attention that many people haven't heard about the new Space Quarterly magazine that was released in the US/Canada.

A free pilot issue released on September 1, and is available for free download now ... and i'm not sure for how much longer – so get your free copy now! I personally quite enjoyed this first issue, finding the articles quite interesting - and am very likely to subscribe (USD $19/year).

But I do have an ulterior motive behind this post – I'm keen to hear what you think should be in a New Zealand space magazine...

Over the past few weeks we've begun investigations into the viability of creating a space magazine for New Zealand. The idea came out of some brainstorming sessions about how to unify and amplify the efforts of the various astronomical and space-clubs around New Zealand. I won't bore you with details, but we're thinking that the magazine could be distributed free/cheaply through all the existing clubs and societies as an electronic PDF file, and if really successful – could become a proper newsstand publication.

Starting a magazine will take a lot of effort, but for the moment – let's assume that there is enough interest to make it viable:

And let me ask you – what would you want to read about in a local space magazine?

  • What is it you really like about any newsletters/magazines you currently get from your local astronomy club/etc?
  • What is missing – or what do you wish there was more coverage of? (particular topics/subject areas, types of news, etc?)
  • Are there any international magazines you subscribe to, and why? What is worth the cost, or you feel is not being provided locally in the newsmedia?

And of course, if anyone is interested in getting involved with the discussions about creating the magazine, please get in touch with us. It's early days in our planning, but if we get enough support, we'll be needing contributing authors, designers, editors, etc.

Mark Mackay
Executive Director,
KiwiSpace Foundation